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Parent Issue
Month
March
Year
1997
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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[1 996. Directed by Scott Hicks. Cast: Geoff rey Rush, Noah Taylor, Armin Mueller-Stahl. Fine Line Features. 105 mins.] David Helfgott's growing pains get a smooth make-over n Scott Hicks' biography of t h is renown Australian pianist. As played by the trio of Alex Rafalowicz (Helfgott as a boy), Noah Taylor (Hetfgott as a teen), and Geoffrey Rush (Helfgott at middle-age), this feel-good drama carnes much of the emotional wallop that the fabled made-for-TV movie Brian's Song had for earlier audiences. Indeed, in another time, Shine might have been an Emmy-winning broadcast movie. Given that director Hicks is an honored Australian televisión documentalist, the idea isn't really much of a stretch of the imagination. What elevates the film to powerhouse motion picture status, however, is the highly disciplined cadre of artists whose probable career highs carrythisstorytofruition. For Shine indeed shines with an extraordinary presence. Between Hicks' disciplined hand; Rush's, Taylor's, and Rafalowicz's empathetic portrayals as Helfgott; and an impressively resonant performance by Armin Mueller-Stahl as Helfgott's father, Peter; they get effective support from Geoffrey Simpson's magnificent cinematography; Pip Karmel's precise editing; and David Hirschfelder's rousing soundtrack. Helfgott's story is as potentially oppressive as it is ultimately inspiring. A child prodigal whose musical talent was apparently simultaneously nurtured and crushed by his overbearing father, the film is still vague as to the extent that the boy's eventual nervous breakdown was due to his home life. The only clear narrative point is that Helfgott's descent into his own peculiar tunef ui heil is, paradoxically enough, the same route that leads him back to a near-semblance of sanity. SNne's a remarkably well-crafted joumey to the rim of madness. There's enough care in the filmtogoaround for two or three child prodigies. Each actor' s performance - especially Rush's lovableMadHatter of a lounge lizard - s an actor' s dream. Perhaps more than a little eccentric, but also lovableastheincessantly stuttering, if not also divinely touched, witz; Helfgott, as portrayed in the film, is a daft ivory tinkier living precariously off the ashes of his endless chain of cigarettes. There is, of course, the timeless notion of having to go through the deepest valleys to ascend the highest peaks. And David Helfgott's life as illustrated in Shine seems to fit this definition neatly. But perhaps the definition is a bit too neat because the film clinically dissects his story without really dissecting the man's psyche. Helfgott's middle-aged spiritual rejuvenation seems a bit contrived. If he was as ill as the film suggests, then his plight has been thoroughly sanitized. For despite its many hints of Helfgott's struggle for emotional balance, Shine's assured warmth never gives its audience much more than the sense of how powerful the drive to créate art can be while simultaneously trying to keep one's wits about oneself. The film is suspiciously close to one of those bef ore and after advertisements where the messy middle has been hidden from view. Rather than show us how a boy like Helfgott became a man like Helfgott, the film cleanly jumps from his incipient breakdown to Dionysian eccentricity. Shine's relentlessly upbeat conclusión wants us to accept the premise that genius will manifest itself despite the weakness of its vessel. Yet the most one can say of this melodramatic interpretation of David Helfgott's ordeal is that the triumph of the human spirit is as equally powerful as this film is a beautiful cliché. PRIMAL FEAR 1996. Directed by Gregory Hoblit. Cast: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Edward Norton. ParamountParamount Home Video. 129 mins.] The first rule in crafting a suspense film is to créate an antagonist so powerful that the forces of good are see m i n g ly poweriess to def eat him. Primal Fear is a superior example of the genre. Chicago defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) is so despicable, he makes reticent choir boy, Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), look like an angel. Granted, Aaron - who's been accused of hacking to death the city's beloved Catholic Archbishop Rushman (Stanley Anderson) - is perhaps a bit of a lapsed angel. But he also appears to be an innocent caught up in the grip of some unknowable - or, at the least, unspeakable - depravity. What a relief, then, to have Vail on the job. Because a film with Primal Fear's devilishly contri ved twists and tums wou Idn't stand achance of success without a countervailing oily presence at itscore. And Gere's made it his life's mission to play precisely these kinds of characters whose undeiiying cupidity is revealed solely through their excessively smamny behavior. His Vail is a superbly calculating legal gun for hire. As antipathetic as the day is long, Vail's vendetta against justice seems to stem from an innate desire to win as close to margin of legality as possible without falling off the edge of the law. The commensurate shyster, Vail never seems to forget his primary motive is eaming filthy lucre and basking in his clients' controversial profiles. Indeed, he gratuitously takes on Stampler's case pro bono publico simply because of the off ense's seemingly closed nature. Vail's considerable passion comes from his desire to show off his legal acumen as a practiced sleight of hand. Having absorbed Harry Houdini's theatrical penchant for choosing only the most difficult routes of escape, he's ready for any contingency ... or so he thinks. By contrast, Stampler's southem boy s all reticence and repression. He admits to being at the scène of the crime. But he also claims there was a third person in the Archbishop's private quarters who did the awful deed. What Stampler can't quite persuasively explain is why he would flee from the murder site drenched in blood while leading a contingent of Chicago pólice on a prolonged televised chase. Stampler'sdoomedcircumstanceis.ofcourse, more than Vail can possibly bear. And the f act that his ex-lover, Janet Venable (Laura Linney), has been assigned by the District Attomey 's office to prosecute the kid, makes the case that much more appealing. The only problem is his client's story keeps shifting slightly with each revelation that further incriminates him. Director Gregory Hoblit keeps the tale running securely on track and his screenplay (written by Steve Shagan and Ann Biderman) is pulpy enough to keep us hooked from the story's first minute. But the majority of the f ilm's credit must go to Gere and Norton for their affecting pathologies. Their duo of Vail and Stampler is an effectively peculiar combination. The wary, yet hopeful glint in Gere's eyes gives hintto the belief Vail holds in his client's professed innocence. While Norton's pitiful whimper is enough to make the audience want to adopt Stampler and give him the kind of home that would turn him into a productive member of society. So what f the kid is a potential schizophrenic psychopath? The case's burden of proof revolves around whether or not he knows he's done something wrong. This strategy is Vail's baseline defense. And he's been around more than long enough to know when he can trump a gullible jury. Uttimately , professional is as professional does. Gere's a professional and his portrayal of Vail is likewise suff iciently polished. That 's what makes his character's introduction to evil - after having danced around its perimeters for so long - particularty effective. As Martin Vail learns to his ultímate distress: Posing at being the life-long cynic is one thing. Being it is quite another. RATING KEY $r Acting O Cinematography Direction E Editing Ld Narrative Sound Special Effects rtTien a symbol appears following a title. itimplies Ihat the corresponding category is a strength of the movie.

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